Linux Mint 5 Elyssa was released 4 days ago and a few reviews started to appear on the Internet. We like reviews of course because they make more people know about what we do but also because when a reviewer takes time to properly study one of our releases he/she sometimes highlights what could be done better and how the changes we make are perceived from a user point of view. Reviews are a fantastic source of feedback and as you known already, making Mint better over time is all about gathering good feedback.
Link to the review: http://gayhacker.wordpress.com/2008/06/09/linux-mint-5-review/
The “Gay Hacker” wrote a very interesting review and focused more on the tools and changes between Daryna and Elyssa than on specific hardware issues or the install process (as it’s usually the case in fast-written reviews). As a result the article is extremely informative and brings a lot of feedback and some very interesting points.
Answers to the points risen in the review:
1 – The Timezone selection in the installer: I agree, it’s really bad and I actually consider it a regression since this feature worked better in the past releases. The change was made upstream in Ubuntu and if we hadn’t been so busy with implementing other features and addressing other issues I would have definitely looked into changing that.
2 – MintAssistant and the fortune example: The font is not fixed and the animal appears to be “squished”. There’s also a resize problem after the example is shown. We’ll be addressing these issues in the future.
3 – The Gay Hacker said: “The default theme, which has stayed similar since version three, does its job as a default: it’s sterile and unobtrusive, yet it has an edge. However, it’s not quite snazzy enough for my tastes. Not shown in the screenshot are the default icons that come on the desktop, which include “Computer”, “Home”, and any mounted harddrives you have. They can be removed through a program called mintDesktop”
This is a tough one… the current look and feel looks pro. Some people would like more bling and more colors. Also, we can see here how the reviewer hides “Computer” and “Home” on the desktop… should they appear by default (they’re also accessible through the menu). I’d like to know what people think about this so please answer these two polls:
4 – MintMenu: The Gay Hacker said: “One complaint I have with the menu is that it doesn’t automatically update when you install a new application. You have to right click the menu button and select “Reload Plugins”. In fact, if the menu gives you any problems, this is usually the solution. Another complaint: the Edit Menu option sends you to GNOME’s menu editor (alacarte), which thoroughly sucks. Moving an entry to another menu duplicates it, and then leaves the original still checked! On my wish list: the ability to drag a menu item to a different section, and to remove and add items to a section, from within mintMenu. Also on that list is the ability to change what hitting enter does after filtering the results; this is possible to change from gconf-editor but not from the preferences dialog. And my last compliant (sorry): If any of the “Computer”, “Home Folder”, or “Networks” buttons receive focus, I can’t start typing an application name without clicking on the “Filter” text box.”
The menu does update, it just takes time sometimes. But the reviewer is right.. you can always force the refresh with “Reload Plugins”.
Alacarte is quite a big piece of software and it would take a lot of effort to replace it with our own implementation. We could do that I suppose.. I’ll write it down as one of the possible improvements for Mint 6 and we’ll see later on if we go that way or not.
The ability to drag an item to another category or to remove/add items would turn mintMenu into a .desktop file editor.. or we could think of it as a presentation layer on top of these files. It would be very nice from a user point of view and I promise to look at it in the future.
The command launched when hitting enter in the menu can be modified in gconf and you’re 100% right.. it should be there in the preference dialogs. This will be addressed.
As for the focus problem I believe this is a bug so we’ll fix that as well.
5 – mintUpdate: The Gay Hacker said: “One thing that annoys me is the icon used for when Synaptic or apt is running: a broken lock. It worries me because I’d expect that icon if my dependencies were broken, something which has happened twice in my experience with Linux (both my fault). Maybe just an X over the lock would be better? Just a suggestion….”
This is a very good point. I’ll look into that.
6 – mintInstall: The Gay Hacker said: “no error was produced when attempting to install “somerandomapp” in the APT tab, and clicking “Search” gave me a window with an empty text box” and “when installing an application, it will ask if you want to install using the Default or Local repositories. In my mind, Default == Local. Not so, however; “default” means the repository defined in the .mint file, and “local” means your own sources.list file. Maybe the label “mintInstall’s Repositories” or “Application.mint’s Repositories” instead of “Default Repositories” would suit better?”
The mintInstall search issues will be fixed.
About “local” and “default” I agree with the problem (it’s confusing) but not with the solution. The main reason why it was made that way was because this feature came after the GUI was frozen and we consequently didn’t have any localization on these two words … hence the need to make them as small and common as possible. This will be adressed.
7 – mintBackup: The Gay Hacker said “There isn’t a progress bar for backup or recovery.”
Although I don’t really know how I’m going to fix that.. it definitely would be nice to have some kind of progress reported to the user. I’ll look into it.
8 – Software selection: The Gay Hacker said “Linux Mint 5 uses Firefox RC1 with Flash 10. I really like bleeding edge software, but for goodness sake, it’s supposed to be an LTS release! Yeah, I understand version 2 of Firefox probably isn’t going to be supported up to three years from now, but it would have shown seriousness by the distributions to be stable.”
–> It’s arguable although I completely understand your point of view. Having said that.. once FF3 and Flash 10 go stable we’ll be happy to have our user base use them rather than the older versions, especially with a 3 years lifespan planned for this release. To be completely honest I was also annoyed by Ubuntu’s decision at first and I contemplated the idea to make FF2 default. In the end I decided against it. Flash 10 is almost as stable as Flash 9, the problem actually comes from how both versions handle PulseAudio through libflashsupport.. and this problem is more likely to be fixed in Flash 10 than it is in Flash 9. We’ve also included nspluginwrapper so Flash can’t make Firefox crash anymore. This was our way of compromising between cutting-edge and stability.
The Gay Hacker also said “Another disappointing decision made in this release was the replacement of Amarok with Rhythmbox. Rhytmbox pales in comparison to Amarok’s abilities. Changing the ID3 tags is a hassle in Rhtymbox (you have to do it through a dialog box), there are no Global Shortcuts (sorry, you have to stop what you’re doing if you want to change the song), there aren’t nearly the amount of features present in Rhythmbox as there are in Amarok, and being able to see only fifteen songs at a time in my 5000+ song collection is annoying (I saw no option to change the font size). I suppose I’m ranting because I’ve used Amarok for so long. All is well though; removing Rhythmbox with mintMenu and installing Amarok with mintInstall is fairly simple 😉”
–> The first problem with Amarok was its size. A lot of new applications came in Elyssa and this wouldn’t have been possible if we had kept Amarok. Rhythmbox is much smaller in size and this is quite important when fitting every component on a single liveCD. The second problem was the way Amarok was packaged… the upstream maintainers assumed that Amarok users necessarily used KDE, and so Amarok came with some KDE dependencies which resulted in showing KDE-specific elements in the menu. Of course we could hide these menu items but the point here is that the development/packaging of Amarok wasn’t done in a desktop-agnostic way.. it was closely tied to KDE. Finally, Rhythmbox was significantly easier to use for first-time users and its interface was much less impressive than the one in Amarok. There are less features in Rhythmbox than there are in Rhythmbox.. but if we look at somebody who never used Linux before and wants to plug-in his/her iPod and start doing simple things.. the use case apppears to be significantly easier with Rhythmbox.
9 – In the comments section, people discussed the fact that Linux Mint can’t “dist-upgrade”.
It can. In fact it can dist-upgrade in the exact same way than in Debian or Ubuntu. Having said that, some changes in Mint are made to files in your filesystem and are not necessarily patched into packages. This is because we rely on Ubuntu’s package base and we don’t want to maintain everything ourselves. So for instance.. when you upgrade OpenOffice.. you loose the Mint splash screen. When you upgrade bash you loose the bash.bashrc… there are ways to upgrade and it’s fine if you know your way around APT and how to restore things to the way they were… but it’s just simpler to perform a fresh install.
In Mint 6 the most important development we’re planning is a tool which will perform this upgrade for you. We’ll also make sure to package all the artwork and as many of our changes as possible into packages so a dist-upgrade will get you one step closer to a fresh-installed system than it currently does.
I would like to adress my thanks to the “Gay Hacker” (what a nickname though :)) for a wonderful review. This review showed what we were doing to a lot of people, it explained the specificities of Mint to Linux users and the specificities of Elyssa to Daryna users.. and last but not least.. it showed the dev team, and me in particular, how things were perceived and how they could be perfected. I now have a long list of things I want to improve and this is thanks to the great feedback I got from that review.
What is especially striking here is that the Gay Hacker doesn’t appear to be used to writing reviews. I would like to encourage anyone with a blog to do the same. Spread the word about Linux Mint, give our features a close look and tell us how to improve them. This is one of the best way you can contribute to make Linux Mint better. Your voice, your ideas, your feedback.